Actual U.S. Death Rate Is Over 200,000 Higher Than Expected

Monday, August 24, 2020

The subject of the actual COVID-19 death count has been a major point of contention throughout the pandemic. The lack of available testing, coupled with swift outbreaks, has created a lot of room for interpretation in classifying a COVID-19 death. This gets even more complicated if patients have significant comorbidities. And, as we have seen in the rash of nursing home deaths, the most significant gap in COVID-19 death count is with those that die outside of the hospital. Arriving at reliable and accurate numbers, especially when people could get sick and pass away without ever being tested for COVID-19, has been an ongoing challenge. Key to understanding this data is the term "excess death," which refers to the difference between the historical average of deaths and the number of deaths this year.

In an effort to clarify the changes we are seeing across the country, The New York Times published recent CDC findings that provided some insight into the actual COVID-19 death rate in the U.S. The CDC report found that the overall death rate in the U.S. is 200,000 higher since March 2020 when compared with historical data. When compared to the "official" COVID-19 death count, hat is a discrepancy of over 60,000 deaths. The information was compiled based on comparisons with the overall death rate, which is relatively stable year-to-year. This data suggests that either overall death rate is rising beyond those deaths directly attributable to COVID-19, or more people are dying of COVID-19 than we realize. 

As the article points out, many of the excess deaths were concentrated in the Northeast. But the piece also noted that as the virus moved to different areas of the country, abnormal death rates have followed. Loss of life at this scale and speed is obviously difficult to comprehend. Our essential workers in the health care sector have a more direct experience with toll of the pandemic. But as funeral professionals, we also see the impact, albeit in a slightly different way. I would be really curious to hear from some of you what your experiences have been, and still are. What kind of uptick have you seen in funerals and appointments? What has stood out as an unexpected challenge? Have you had to adapt to a fuller schedule, and how? What kind of protocols are you finding most effective for keeping your employees and families safe? The data visualization in the article is broken down state-by-state and definitely worth looking closely at.